Airline chef reveals plane food secrets

Antony McNeil has a pretty wild job — he is responsible for a whopping 52,000 in-flight meals a day, with a yearly food shopping budget of about $300 million.

The Aussie chef relocated to Singapore five years ago from Sydney to take up a role as the director of food and beverage for Singapore Airlines, a job he describes as “the best in the world.”

“I’ve had a huge passion for aircraft and all sorts of flying machinery since I was a young chap, so I’ve got the best of both worlds,” McNeil told news.com.au during an exclusive interview in Singapore at the airline’s catering center, SATS.

“I get to cook and fly and make sure people eat beautiful food on aeroplanes. I am basically responsible for every dish that goes onto the aircraft.”


Antony McNeil.
Antony McNeil is responsible for a whopping 52,000 in-flight meals a day, with a yearly food shopping budget of about $500 million.
Antony McNeil/Instagram

The 52-year-old has 15 people in his immediate in-flight delivery service team, but at large there are hundreds.

“We are essentially running 65 restaurants on a daily basis. I have multiple aircraft in the sky and each of those aircraft has a minimum of three cabin classes,” he explained.

“[And] within those three cabin classes we have got multiple menu combinations.”

He said those in first class can choose from about 17 meal varieties everything from caviar through to dessert.


Antony McNeil.
McNeil has 15 people in his immediate in-flight delivery service team, but at large there are hundreds.
News.com.au

“And you can eat at any time as you wish and as much as you like.”

Magnitude and scale of the catering operation

McNeil said what people may not understand about in-flight cuisine is the sheer magnitude and scale of what goes on behind the scenes.

“When you see that meal, someone has taken the time and effort to put that together for you,” he said.


The 52-year-old said people may not understand the magnitude and scale of what goes on behind the scenes about in0flight cuisine.
The 52-year-old said people may not understand the magnitude and scale of what goes on behind the scenes about in0flight cuisine.
News.com.au

“There is a farmer somewhere in Australia or the US that has provided that lamb or chicken, there’s a farmer in Malaysia providing the carrot and broccoli — it really is a global effort.

But the perception of airline food is that people think it’s not great, but actually, we spend a lot of time and effort to bring great dining experiences on-board the aircraft.”

SATS is Singapore Airlines’ catering partner located within Chiangi Airport, and while it makes food for 45 other carriers, Singapore Airlines is by far its biggest customer.

McNeil works with SATS to develop hundreds of new menus every year, alongside his team.

The airline caters to 11 different cuisine styles from Japanese, Korean, and Singaporean such as the hawker heritage cuisines, through Western cuisine where creating one dish can take nine to 12 months.

“Sometimes we need to change the ingredient or we are not happy with the design, or simply the availability of the product is not in the quantity we need to fly.”

The airline runs menus from 77 different departure cities, so leaving Singapore passengers are offered chicken and rice or hawker soup, whereas leaving NYC, it’s a smoked trout salad.

McNeil, who previously worked for another major airline and at Ritz Carlton and Hyatt hotels, said it’s a mammoth operation that comes down to engaging with supply chain, procurement, and understanding what is available to the market.

We are talking thousands of meals a day, so we can’t just go to Woolies or Coles and grab what we need,” he said.

“In Australia, for example, we may have three or four beef and lamb suppliers and we know generally the cycling, we know Victoria goes first in terms of lambing season then south NSW and Queensland, so we follow trends of the season.

“Everything we do is majority driven by the season and being in Singapore everything is mostly imported.”

Pumping out 19 million in-flight meals a year

The catering center has hundreds of staff cooking and packing meals for the airline’s 20 million passengers a year.


“There is a farmer somewhere in Australia or the US that has provided that lamb or chicken, there’s a farmer in Malaysia providing the carrot and broccoli — it really is a global effort,” the chef said.
“There is a farmer somewhere in Australia or the US that has provided that lamb or chicken, there’s a farmer in Malaysia providing the carrot and broccoli — it really is a global effort,” the chef said.
News.com.au

“The conversion of those products into meal development and the scale of cooking is huge,” McNeil said, adding the center is broken into sections including, hot kitchen, salad, and dessert.

They make a whopping 1.2 tonnes of their famous fried carrot cake which is a popular hawker breakfast dish made up of white radish, red carrot, rice flour, and egg.

“We do around 7000 fresh omelets a day on a fabulous omelet machine,” McNeil said about their breakfast dish.

As for their Lobster Thermidor business class dish — the kitchen cranks out 168,000 a month.


“But the perception of airline food is that people think it’s not great, but actually, we spend a lot of time and effort to bring great dining experiences on-board the aircraft," McNeil said.
“But the perception of airline food is that people think it’s not great, but actually, we spend a lot of time and effort to bring great dining experiences on-board the aircraft,” McNeil said.
News.com.au

“So that magic is happening 365 days, seven days a week, 24 hours a day — so we are busy.”

Basically, the Aussie chef said it’s “non-stop all the time”.

Food rules

When it comes to food requirements, every airline, or catering partner of an airline, has to abide by a certain set of rules.


The airline caters to 11 different cuisine styles from Japanese, Korean, Singaporean, and Western.
The airline caters to 11 different cuisine styles from Japanese, Korean, Singaporean, and Western.
News.com.au

“From the day the product hits the kitchen, as soon as the chef picks up that carrot and peels it it’s got a 72-hour life,” Mr McNeil said.

“We have got a number of hours to clean it, cook it chill it, pack it for in-flight, and then to get it onto the plane and we try to do that all within 24 to 36 hours.”

McNeil said if the meal or that product gets beyond 48 hours, generally it will get removed from the service and recycled.

“If it’s the carrot, we put it to into a beef or chicken stock. So there’s always an endless cycle of utilization. Of course, waste is a concern for everybody but we try to maximize that waste cycle.”

Why food tastes different on a plane

It’s one of the most common questions McNeil gets asked, but he said aircraft have come a long way over the past 10 years.

“The newer generation of aircraft, the A380s, A350s, and the 787s, all have a lower pressurization within the cabin space,” he explained.

“This means less pressure on the body and sinuses are not as compressed because there’s more moisture being introduced through the air conditioning system.

“So a meal you are getting on the ground is 90 percent as it would be in the sky as opposed to five to 10 years ago.”

Chefs cook protein, such as the airline’s filet mignon dish for first and business class, about 40 percent.

It’s enough to kill off bacteria and also allows flight attendants to finish cooking it in the air.

Otherwise, it will be extremely overcooked.

“Cabin crew receives a plating guideline which includes a photograph of the dish, the components of the dish and heating guidelines,” McNeil said.


McNeil, who previously worked for another major airline and at hotels, said it’s a mammoth operation that comes down to engaging and understanding what is available to the market.
McNeil, who previously worked for another major airline and at hotels, said it’s a mammoth operation that comes down to engaging and understanding what is available to the market.
News.com.au

When it comes to food requirements, every airline, or catering partner of an airline, has to abide by certain rules.
When it comes to food requirements, every airline, or catering partner of an airline, has to abide by certain rules.
News.com.au

“The lamb loin, for example, cooks for 12 minutes in the air because it has been cooked 60 percent on the ground.”

While McNeil clearly has a demanding job, he said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It really is the best job in the world,” he said while laughing.

“I have come a long way,” he added.

“I got my apprenticeship in my final year of school and someone said to me ‘if you want easy work go and work at an airport hotel’.”

And as they say, the rest is history.

Article source: https://airlines.einnews.com/article/637974288/tNz5V6mdQMzm8Pex?ref=rss&ecode=vaZAu9rk30b8KC5H

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